Devon schoolchildren celebrate a return to the great outdoors for annual Kingfisher Award Scheme

Identifying farm wildlife and grinding wheat to make flour are just some of the activities Devon schoolchildren have been taking on with the return of a major educational event.

Hundreds of pupils descended on Stantyway Farm on the Jurassic Coast near Otterton to take part in the annual Kingfisher Award Scheme. They were hosted by Clinton Devon Estates tenant farmers Sam and Nell Walker.

Pupils from Woodbury Salterton Primary School visit Stantyway Farm near Otterton for Kingfisher farm day

The Kingfisher Award Scheme is delivered by the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, a registered charity providing trusted, independent environmental advice to the farming community.

The aim of the scheme, which was launched in Devon in 1992 by the then Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, is to provide children with the opportunity to go onto farms to explore the natural world. It supports youngsters from across the Westcountry each year. The Devon scheme is hosted by Clinton Devon Estates and helps youngsters to make the connections between food production, farming and wildlife via a ‘hands on’ experience.

This year 12 schools took part – the highest number in the event’s history. Pupils joined a range of activities at Sam and Nell’s arable and beef farm in East Devon. As well as seeing and learning about the different crops in the fields they also used British sourced ingredients to make flapjacks and used binoculars to identify farmland birds including rare Cirl buntings.

It’s the first time children have been able to enjoy the event in person since 2019. Covid restrictions resulted in 2020’s event being cancelled and last year’s awards had to be staged online, with virtual farm field trips. Organisers arranged for farmers to be filmed carrying out various activities so it could still go ahead in some form. This year, it’s back to its best.

Kate Ponting, Clinton Devon Estates’ Countryside Learning Officer, said: “We have been absolutely delighted to welcome schools back to the farm.  While everyone worked really hard to make last year’s virtual scheme a success, it wasn’t quite the same because the Kingfisher Award Scheme is all about the connection children make with the environment around them.

“It has been wonderful to witness the enthusiasm and see all the smiling faces again, not just among the children, but from their teachers too. For several this is there first school trip into the countryside for a very long time. This is the way the Kingfisher Award Scheme is supposed to be and it has been so good to be back.”

(L-R) Elise, Luca and Tessa from Woodbury Salterton Primary School look up close at a bird’s nest

More than 40 volunteers from a number of different organisations, pitched in to support Kate at Stantyway Farm including staff from Clinton Devon Estates, the Environment Agency, Devon Wildlife Trust, Westcountry Rivers Trust and from sponsors, rural insurers Cornish Mutual.  

Alongside the Devon event, in Cornwall, Somerset and Wiltshire, a further 18 schools attended their local county schemes. A project for Dorset is set to start next year.

The farm visits help pupils begin project work following the farming and environmental themes, when they return to the classroom. Their work then goes on display to parents and other invited guests in July, where it is judged with a trophy and prize money going to a winner for each county. The organisers ensure every school that takes part gets a prize though.

This year, the Devon presentation event will take place on July 4th at Bicton Arena.